supper tonight – 6.7.12 – frito pies

Yes, you read that right.

Yes, we bought a bag of (corporate, processed, full-of-preservatives-and-crap) Fritos.

We could’ve (and probably should’ve) walked down to Daily Groceries or driven over to Earth Fare for some organic, all-natural Frito-type corn chips with five or fewer easily pronounceable ingredients. It’s always my preference to buy a healthier, more sustainable option.

But when you’re really hungry after a long day at school or work, and the chili’s completely ready in the pot, and then Micah says, “We need chips! How about Fritos? I’ll go get some.”–well, it’s kinda hard to stick to your principles.

And since we do stick to our principles most of the time….well, I wasn’t going to argue.

Plus, I’ll admit: I like Fritos. Always have. And I love, love, love Frito pies.

You might’ve had Frito pies before, but if you haven’t, let me tell you a little bit about them.

The Frito pies of my childhood were comprised of three vital components:

  • Canned chili. Dave and I were the working-class kids of teenage parents, so brand-name chili like Bush’s or Hormel happened sometimes, but other times, the cans looked a little more like this:

from the creative folks at Max Pictures’ Blather, where they actually printed
Dharma Initiative PDF labels for chili and Spam, affixed the labels to the cans,
and then snapped some photos

  • Fritos:

from Frito-Lay’s official website

  • And shredded cheese:

from Joe Hribar’s blog, which includes a whole section about food packaging

We ate a lot of Frito pies growing up, so you would think they were commonplace enough for me not to get that excited about them (or maybe even enough for me to get tired of them).

Not so.

For whatever reason, Frito pies always sparked high spirits. If one of us asked what was for dinner and Mom or Dad responded, “Frito pies!”–they always said it with that exclamation point at the end, always enthusiastic, always eager–then Dave and I always felt the excitement, too. (I’m speaking for him here, of course, but I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the mark.)

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because we had some choices–how many chips, how much cheese, what the final crunch-to-chili ratio would be.

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because they were kind of real food, but still kind of junk food, too, and maybe when the chili ran out, we’d still get to snack on the leftover Fritos afterwards.

Or maybe Frito pies were exciting just because they tasted really damn good.

Whatever the reason–the autonomy, the forbidden-fruit-thrill, or the hearty-spicy-crunchy-melty deliciousness–Frito pies are one of my very favorite childhood memories.

They’re a tradition that carried over to my teen years, too, when we would go camping with my Dad and someone might stew a big dutch oven of homemade chili over the campfire (or just plunk an opened can of chili beans right down on the grates of the grill), and our chili and chips and cheese sometimes got fancified with a sprinkling of black olives or a spoonful of salsa or a dollop of sour cream.

My mom still makes Frito pies sometimes–the kind everyone’s pinning on Pinterest where you put out lots of little single-serve bags of Fritos next to a big pot of chili and and an assortment of fixins so your party guests can build their own Frito pies without dirtying any dishes because the chip baggie doubles as a sort of bowl.

Well, as of last Thursday, I still make Frito pies, too:

the layers, from bottom to top: a generous fistful (or two) of Fritos, a heaping
ladle of chili, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, and a scattering of fresh cilantro
(Micah also added a dollop of Greek yogurt–subbed for sour cream)

When you eat a Frito pie, you should top it with whatever chili you like best, whether it’s a can of No Beans Hormel or a pot of vegan chili with sweet corn and chunks of carrot or some very traditional chili that’s just chile con carne, stewed to sublime, spicy perfection.

Our chili wasn’t the best we’ve ever made, definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty dang good, so I’ll share how we made it here.

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup dry black beans (or you could use a can of already cooked)
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans (or use 1-2 cans)
  • 1 pound bulk pork sausage (ours was medium-heat breakfast sausage from Moonshine, but once we seasoned it, it didn’t taste like brunch anymore)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (or sub cayenne)
  • 1 can Pabst Blue Ribbon (or beer of your choice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • If your beans are dry, soak ’em and cook ’em. We used our pressure cooker to get them done in about 45 minutes, but you can simmer them all day on the stove or in a slow cooker–or just used canned beans because they’re easier. 🙂
  • In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground sausage.
  • When the sausage is cooked through (or close to it), add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and saute until they’re translucent and tender.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, and ground chipotle.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, including the beans. (You can add the liquid from the beans or not, depending on how thick and chunky you like your chili and how long you want it to take to reduce.)
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least 30-40 minutes, but as long as a few hours to let the flavors really play together nicely.

Now that you have that big, spicy, hearty pot of chili, go ahead and make yourself a Frito pie. A basic three-ingredient stove-top pie, a rustic campfire pie, a cute little Pinterest pie….or make up your own. Use Fritos, or splurge on the organic all-natural five-ingredient corn chips. It’s really up to you.

And in the end, that’s probably the best thing about a Frito pie. 🙂

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Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “supper tonight – 6.7.12 – frito pies

  1. budziak

    Hmm, Frito Pies? I think I might try it some day 🙂 I need to use my slow cooker more anyways!

  2. I applaud you for having the guts to say that Fritos are okay! I am as big a supporter of local food and better as anyone, but I can’t stand it when people get a holier-than-thou attitude about giving yourself a break once in a while. It’s not like you have Frito-Pies every single day for every meal, and one treat isn’t going to kill you or bring down the food system.

    I was had a friend, a good friend, get in my face and start lecturing me on the importance of eating free-range, organic chicken. Me! I help COORDINATE a MEAT CSA for a LOCAL FARMER! I mean, how much more can I do to show how much eating well is important to me?!

    Anyway, he got in face because I happened to express a liking for chicken fried in Crisco. Whatever! It gets really crunchy, it’s decadent, it tastes good, and I refuse to be shamed by a food I eat once or twice a year.

    Sometimes people make food choices that are not entirely based on health benefits, sustainability, or Michael Pollan’s books. Sometimes certain foods just make us feel good because they make us remember good times with good people.

    So keep on making those Frito Pies topped with Dharma-Iniative chili! And I come over for that bacon, I want one too!

    • I love, love, love this rant.

      Shame on your friend for criticizing your fried chicken love! I, too, am a fan of yummy, crispy fried chicken. And for Micah and me, most of our time is spent voting with our dollars for local farmers and businesses, and we hardly ever buy any processed foods. So I don’t feel too guilty for occasional indulgences like this one. 🙂

      I would be glad to make you a Frito pie any time!

      • Yeah! Shame on him! I’ll eat my annual Crisco-fried chicken and love it, thank you very much 😉

        And yes, I would love a Frito pie!

        🙂

  3. I just realized that I felt so strongly about the deliciousness of your Frito pies that my comment was riddled with missing words and typos 😛

    Doh!

  4. I’ve never heard of frito pies before. Chilli con carne here is always served with boiled white rice (and, I hate to admit it, but with lots of carrots lurking in the chilli). Love the idea of adding lots of cheddar cheese to my recipe. Yum! Not so sure about the tortilla chips, though.

    • The cheese adds a nice, gooey richness. And I promise, the crunch of the chips really makes the dish! You can do it with Fritos or with regular corn tortilla chips. It ends up kind of like an extra messy order of nachos. 🙂

      Let me know if you try these out!

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